“Cache-A makes LTO archiving very accessible, and their solutions are scalable – they can grow as your requirements grow.”
Karma Foley, archivist, Smithsonian Channel
The facility: Smithsonian Channel
Smithsonian Channel is owned by Smithsonian Networks, a joint venture between Showtime Networks Inc. and The Smithsonian Institution. Its programs are largely inspired by the assets of the Smithsonian Institution, the world’s largest museum complex. Smithsonian Channel features award-winning original documentaries, series and groundbreaking programs highlighting America’s historical, cultural and scientific heritage. It maintains a large collection of original field footage, as well as production copies of archival footage from the Smithsonian Institution, the US National Archives and establishments such as NASA.
To keep these treasured assets protected for the long-term, while also maintaining a working archive, Smithsonian Channel made the strategic decision in 2012 to base its archive future around LTO-tape, using the LTFS format, and harnessed Cache-A archive equipment to undertake this vital aspect of its work.
Smithsonian Channel began airing on September 26, 2007 and is now available to customers of DirecTV, Comcast, Time Warner Cable, Charter Communications Cablevision, Verizon, AT&T and more. The channel’s growing show catalog already numbers well over 500 titles. Older productions, shot mainly on videotape, are now being systematically digitized, and transferred to LTO-tape, alongside newer programs, that have been shot and post produced using file-based tools and formats.
Located in Washington DC, Smithsonian Channel has been using Cache-A’s Power-Cache with dual LTO-5 drives, supplied by Mac Business Solutions in Maryland, since August 2012. Notable programs already archived include : Aerial America, the expansive TV series taking viewers on extraordinary journeys across the 50 US states; Shuttle Discovery's Last Mission featuring carefully-researched footage and compelling testimonies from the astronauts, NASA scientists, and designers who made it all possible; LA Frock Stars, in which vintage frocks get a second chance to shine at red-carpet events; 9/11: Day That Changed The World with intimate accounts from the people in critical leadership positions on that fateful day; MLK: The Assassination Tapes revisits the tumultuous events surrounding one of the most shocking assassinations in America; and 40 Under 40, about the traditional and non-traditional works of decorative art created by the top 40 American craft artists under the age of 40.
“As a TV channel we exist to make programming, and there is a strong business argument for protecting our media assets and keeping them accessible for re-use. In addition, many of our programs and outtakes have real cultural value, so we also have a responsibility to preserve these materials and keep them accessible for future generations,” says Smithsonian Channel archivist Karma Foley. “Archiving our back catalog, new productions, as well as planning for the future, is a big project, and we have our work cut out. With Cache-A we have found a really user-friendly, scalable solution, that allows us to protect all of these assets for posterity, while facilitating a working archive so that we can repurpose material as required for new programs and other uses.”
The user: Karma Foley, archivist, Smithsonian Channel
Award-winning archivist Karma Foley started at Smithsonian Channel in 2011. It’s a role that sees her working with a small but growing team to deliver a strategy to digitally preserve and catalog the station’s past, present and future programs, while also managing other collections and historical image research.
Foley started out in production and editorial, working on A Kalahari Family, a six-hour documentary video series by John Marshall. She then moved into freelance image research, rights clearance and negotiating licensing terms for museum exhibits, documentaries, TV programs, and other media projects for clients including Discovery Networks, The History Channel, the Smithsonian Institution and Smithsonian Networks. Fascinated by the work of archivists, she was hired as processing archivist and content producer at the Human Studies Film Archives, Smithsonian Institution, overseeing the Jorge Prelorán and John Marshall Collections and gaining significant experience archiving 16mm film and analog video formats. This dedicated work led to her winning the prestigious Maryann Gomes Award in 2010, bestowed by the Association of Moving Image Archivists.
Today, as Smithsonian Channel archivist, Foley heads-up the design and implementation of workflows that secure tapeless and tape-based video footage from the moment of creation through to long-term archival storage on LTO tape. She is also implementing Smithsonian Channel’s first collection management system (CMS) and searchable database for collections of video, audio, photographs, and other production assets, and oversees preparation of stock footage clips for sale by licensed partners.
The challenge: protecting increasing volumes of file-based material, while creating both permanent and working archives
“One of the biggest challenges we face is the ever-increasing volume of file-based footage. Prior to 2012, we were handling around 70% tape and 30% tapeless material. But, following the tragic Japanese tsunami in 2011, there was a shortage of videotape, and many producers and DPs switched to file-based formats – such as RED R3D, XDCAM and P2 – and very little footage was being shot to tape. Every time the recording media changes, the shooting ratio increases. Compared to celluloid and even videotape, the shooting ratios of file-based productions have increased dramatically. At times, when we had different programs in each of our edit suites, we faced a storage crisis and came very close to running out of space on our SAN.”
“Added to this, as a production and broadcast company, the materials we handle are our product. A great deal of money, effort, creativity and human resources go into creating them, and we need to protect that investment. We also need to easily find and retrieve material for new productions and programs.”
The solution: Power-Cache with dual LTO-5 drives
Equipment-wise, Smithsonian Channel currently has four editing bays, although this expected to expand, networked to an 80TB XSAN server. The editorial team uses Final Cut Pro and can draw on and deposit materials as required from the XSAN. The Power-Cache system is connected to the local network via Gb Ethernet, with the XSAN shown as a mounted volume. This allows the team to easily write or restore raw footage, production elements such as graphics and audio tracks, as well as final masters, directly between the Power-Cache and the SAN. Additionally, when working with production partners, assets often arrive on hard drives, and after checking that the materials are both healthy and complete, these are pushed directly to the Power-Cache.
Since embarking on its LTO-tape archiving strategy, Foley estimates Smithsonian Channel has archived 30TB of content, averaging around three LTO tapes per week.
“Hard drives are great for short-term storage, but they are just not reliable enough for the longer term in the same way as LTO. To mitigate risks, our policy is to have a minimum of two copies of the material saved to LTO and stored in different geographic locations. When the material is especially critical we make three LTO copies,” she says.
Recalling Smithsonian Channel’s decision to adopt Cache-A LTO-tape archiving, Foley says, “We looked closely at several companies offering LTO appliances, and felt Cache-A was the most approachable and offered the most user-friendly technology. Very attractive to us was the Cache-A web interface that allows staff in different areas of the office to write tapes and retrieve materials. Furthermore, we did not want be locked into software or hardware decisions in the future, so we really liked Cache-A’s commitment to supporting open file formats, with tar and LTFS, as this would allow us to retrieve material down the line irrespective of the appliance in the future.”
Foley and the team initially considered the Pro-Cache5, but during their investigations noticed the leap in productions shooting to file-based media. “This was not a blip but a new trend that would continue,” she remarks. “So we went for the Power-Cache with two LTO-5 drives. This extra capacity gives us the ability to write to two tapes at the same time, or to write to one LTO while retrieving material from the other.”
Foley says they evaluated Power-Cache over several months prior to purchase. “It integrated well and we were impressed with the level of attention and service we received from Cache-A.” During this phase, Foley also initiated a trial-delivery of HDCAM and DVCProHD materials on LTO with LTFS from a digitization vendor. “Power-Cache loaded the LTO as though it had written the tape itself – it was seamless,” she remarks.
Regarding the retrieval and management of assets on LTO-tapes, Foley has implemented a holistic approach that includes strict file-naming rules and careful media organization.
“File-naming and organization starts with the production team in the field and this carries right through to post production and archiving. We are meticulous about media management, so before writing to LTO, we verify the health and completeness of the files, check file names for illegal characters, and carefully document what is on each tape. With this in place we know we can easily find and pull the assets we need. It’s infinitely faster and less error prone than going back to the original videotape or the hard drive of the field recordings.”
Foley underscores Smithsonian Channel’s commitment to LTO archiving in the future. “Digital preservation is an on-going process, and we know full well that we will have to migrate the data at a future point. As LTO offers two generations of backward compatibility, and increasing capacity and performance with each new generation, we can stretch-out our decisions and re-invest when we need to.
“With Cache-A we have found a reliable solution to handing the ever-increasing volume of material, that keeps it safe yet accessible. Our experience with Cache-A has been very positive, and I would absolutely recommend Cache-A for archiving. It’s better to be safe than sorry. They make LTO archiving very accessible, and their solutions are scalable – they grow as your requirements grow.”